Big Data’s Big Problem

by Colin Shaw on October 9, 2015

Big data is the gigantic data sets whose analysis could reveal predictions of human behavior. Big data is big news. If we can predict what people will do in a given situation, we can create situations that get them to do what we want. But Big data is only showing us a part of the big picture. The biggest part, WHY people do what they do is, as of yet, missing from Big Data.

Frost and Sullivan, the growth consulting firm, predicted that by the year 2025, global traffic would be measured in 100 Zettabytes. After I had googled what a Zettabyte was (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000), I realized that ignoring the big impact of not having all the big data is a big problem for organizations—Zettabyte big!

I have written before about the big hole in big data, which is the lack of emotional data collected in all these bytes of information. We are getting a picture, but it isn’t complete. Because unlike the computers that collect this data, the people are humans. Therefore, they are irrationally driven to make a decision based on emotions. So yes, the data might show a pattern, but it doesn’t show the emotional state that created the pattern. In other words, it shows what they did, but not why they did it.

It is important to consider this information from a Behavioral Economics viewpoint. For those of you who have heard this phrase but do not really understand what this means, the Oxford Dictionary defines Behavioral Economics as:

A method of economic analysis that applies psychological insights into human behaviour to explain economic decision-making.

In my view this is fundamental. Despite this fact, Big Data continues to gain steam as the “next Internet-sized” evolution of business. In their Big Data roundup this past June, Cloud Tech’s blog showed the results of a study. In it, 89% of business leaders believe big data is the new Internet, meaning it will revolutionize business they way the Internet did. And they also believe it will revolutionize their operations (85% said), and the biggest way it would revolutionize them (37% said) is in Customer Relationships.


Don’t get me wrong; I think big data is helpful to Customer Relationships.  However, as it is now the data you get is like watching a bunch of people from a distance. You can see what they are doing, but you can’t hear what they are saying. Actions, I suppose, speak louder than words (or at least that’s what my mum told me), but frankly, hearing the words and experiencing the action is a faster route to understanding. Their words and actions can give you the insight that Big Data currently lacks.

For example, why do people bounce off a website? Big data will tell you that at some point, your Customer visited your website and then left x.x seconds later.  The reasons why this occurred are not addressed in the “data.” Instead, you have to guess. Was the page uninviting? Was the link they came in from misleading? Was the Call to Action on the page unclear? You don’t know. You just know they came and then they left x.x seconds later. Without the why, you can redesign the website, clean up who you link with, or fix the call to action, but you have no idea if what you fixed will work to fix the bounce rate.

Big Data is helpful. Before this “data,” you might not have known that your bounce rate was a problem. However, as my example explains, it doesn’t answer why this happens or provide a clear path for fixing the issue.

What organizations need to do is to track the emotional key moments in their experience and compare them with the Big Data they get back. We do this type of research all the time. We take an outside-in approach, walking the experience as if we were a Customer, noting how we felt in the experience at each moment based on the activities that take place then. These moments tell us what an actual Customer is likely to feel. Then we use this information to change that moment to evoke a different emotional response, one that we want the Customer to have. We call it an Emotional Signature, but you might also call it “The Why That Big Data Misses.”

So if you want to reap the benefits of Big Data’s Big Impact to revolutionize your Customer relationships, as the study we reference above indicates, then you need to do your emotional research, too. This research will explain what you see in the Big Data Charts, allowing you to understand what it means. Most importantly, this understanding will lead to better design to get different (and more pleasing) big data results in the future. No guesswork required.

Will you miss the big impact of big data?

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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of five bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter & Periscope @ColinShaw_CX

Colin ShawBig Data’s Big Problem